2006 Skagway Municipal Election Forum

Click here for preview of the sales tax proposition

SKAGWAY CITY COUNCIL
Three candidates are running for two 3-year seats
Incumbents Dave Hunz and Lisa Cassidy are on the ballot,and Tom Cochran is a declared write-in candidate

COUNCIL QUESTIONS

1. The city is searching for a new city manager. What qualities will you be looking for at hiring time, and how much should this person be paid?

2. Sales tax is an ever-increasing segment of the Skagway budget. It has been tapped for the operating budget to draw down the mill rate, school and clinic funding, and major projects like flood control. Where do you draw the line on spending sales tax reserves? Also state your position on the ballot proposition before voters.

3. Dyea land use issues have come before the city this past year, from regulating parking on the flats to drawing boundaries for new homesites. What is your vision for the Dyea area?

4. Please briefly list your top five city priorities over the next three years?

LISA A. “LC” CASSIDY
Age: 38
Occupation: fine woodworker/ tour guide
Education: BA Political Science, minor; environmental conservation/ art history, University of New Hampshire Years in Skagway: 16
Public Offices Held: Skagway Planning and Zoning Commission, Skagway City Council
Interests, hobbies: outdoor adventures, cooking, gardening

CASSIDY ANSWERS

1. I feel that our candidate should have exceptional public and business administration skills, strong budgeting and personal management skills and be familiar with municipal laws. I would like to see someone who is proactive and always seeking a challenge. An Alaskan with a love of small towns would be a plus. The pay should most definitely be dependent on experience.

2. Sales tax savings is a great benefit to everyone in Skagway. I have found that most people agree that all or most of the above reasons for spending sales tax money is valid and often a necessary evil, as flood control. To be fiscally responsible I feel one must look ahead and try to project into the future what possible needs and emergencies might occur, budget for the necessities, and save for those major projects, such as infrastructure, and spend those monies only at the appropriate time. Going through my first budget process was quite an eye opener. Many of our expenses this year, such as our new clinic savings, led to the “hold the line” budget, money that will be freed up in the near future. There will always be bills to pay, but not always major projects going on simultaneously. I do not think that now is the time to ask the people of Skagway if they support an increase in sales tax. I feel that putting it on the ballot is misleading, as the question may suggest that an increase is needed now. Why bother putting it out there if we don’t need it? Let us have more open debate on the subject, let us dig up some hard numbers for everyone to see, as of now I am not convinced.

3. My “vision” for the Dyea area is simple. Planning must be well thought out and consider everyone. We should provide land opportunities, while preserving scenic views, create trails for multiple and single use, and set aside tracts for hunting, fishing, and multiple use. Good Planning will preserve our treasure. Please help participate in this exciting process!

4. Top priorities:
1) Dyea planning
2) Encourage public participation through public meeting attendance, letters to Council and beyond.
3) Researching and working with Council on economies outside of tourism.
4) Pursue the feasibility of a senior center in the near future.
5) Work on dealing with our summer season safety concerns.

TOM COCHRAN
Age: 38
Occupation: Combination Telephone Technician
Education: High School Graduate
Years in Skagway: Born and Raised
Public Offices Held: City Councilman, School Board Member
Interests: Hiking, Computers, Telephone Poles

COCHRAN ANSWERS
1. As with any new hire, you seek someone with experience, competence, and professionalism. Alaska experience is important in my opinion. Familiarity with small town issues and challenges would also be a plus. I believe salary should be dependent on experience and performance.

2. Expenditures from the sales tax fund should benefit the taxpayers without excessive spending. I think you have to look at each project and achieve the goal without wasting public funds. Take the seawall project as an example. The old seawall was a liability and needed to be fixed. This could have been done at a fraction of the cost of the current project. Will the residents of Skagway benefit more from this project as opposed to a scaled down version that would have eliminated the problem. As a friend of mine often says, “It don’t take a meat axe to kill a canary. A paring knife will do.” As for the ballot proposition I would like to know what the project is and how long the rate would be in effect. You don’t want to increase sales tax for a new clinic and leave the rate increased forever. Any project inspired increase should have a sunset. I am opposed to the current ballot initiative because I have not heard what it is supposed to pay for. It seems that the current sales pitch for this increase is that groceries and major appliances would be exempt. Your savings from a grocery exemption would be more than offset by a 1% increase. The net result is we all pay more. How does this benefit the taxpayer?

3. Getting land out to the public from the municipal entitlement should remain a priority. I believe current regulations prohibit many people from enjoying Dyea. The city needs to work on making Dyea available to everyone for multiple uses. The West Creek corridor should be maintained for the use of residents. I am adamantly opposed to any increase in Federal jurisdiction or Federal real estate.

4. Top priorities:
1) Borough Petition
2) Land Sale
3) Available and Affordable Housing
4) Development of Non-Tourism Economic Opportunities
5) Responsible Fiscal Management

Dave Hunz
Age: 53
Occupation : Engineer, contractor, business owner
Education: Skagway High graduate, 1 year college
Years in Skagway: 47
Public Offices Held: Skagway City Council 3 terms; Economic Development Commission
Interests: Boating, fishing, family.

HUNZ ANSWERS
1. Strong background in personnel management because the city is now one of the largest employers in town. Strong background in financial and budget management for writing city budgets. Bob (Ward) has been at the low end of manager salaries in the state, so to attract someone good we may need to pay more. It will depend on experience.

2. We should put enough sales tax in reserves to fund two years of city operations. As far as the ballot goes, I don’t think that just because other cities in Southeast have 5 or 6 percent that we should. We shouldn’t pass something before we know how we are going to use it. There’s no clear cut direction on what it will be spent on. Other cities have a half percent dedicated for certain needs. We also don’t know the effect it will have on sales in Skagway.

3. The flats should be available for recreation for all users. It should be open for snow machining, skiers, ATV users, model airplanes, etc. We’re also looking at selling the land for further housing development and needs.

4. Top priorities:
1) Clinic funding and completion
2) Year-round employment through ore terminal, port access, harbor
3) Residential street and sidewalk improvements and rebuilding
4) Petition the state for Dyea Road improvements
5) Continue work on getting title to our entitlement lands.

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SKAGWAY CITY SCHOOL BOARD
Two candidates are running for two 3-year seats:
Incumbents Darren Belisle and Chris Maggio

SCHOOL BOARD QUESTIONS
1. Enrollment at Skagway School could drop below 101 during the count period. If this happens, and state funding is reduced, what should the board do?

2. The district has been the recipient of grant money to hire additional staff and acquire foreign language and physical education equipment. But these grants will run out next year. What’s your plan for keeping students using this equipment after the grants run dry?

3. Please briefly list your top five priorities for the school district over the next three years?

DARREN BELISLE
Age: 40
Occupation: Alaska Power and Telephone
Education: College degree Wildlife Biology
Years in Skagway: 14
Offices Held: School Board 4 years
Hobbies, Interests: Hunting, coaching T-ball, softball

BELISLE ANSWERS
1) We will be looking at ways to supplement the budget. The timber reserve fund is one thing to look at for the short term and for the long term we will have to look at other ways to save money across the board.

2) We are currently looking at other grants to keep these programs going, but the expensive part has already been paid for, we can look at part time positions.

3) 1. get enrollment up even if it means getting people to host exchange students; 2. find more funding; 3. bring the music program back when the RIF is done; 4. keep the board together and moving in a positive direction for the kids; 5. keep working with the city council to find outside funding for programs and being able to keep the programs going that are in place now.

CHRIS MAGGIO
Age: 57
Occupation: Pilot
Education: AA degree
Years in Skagway: 14 (5 years full-time resident)
Offices Held: School Board member
Hobbies, Interests: Guitar, woodworking, metal fabrication

MAGGIO ANSWERS
1) On student enrollment, or lack there of, the question becomes very complicated. To a certain extent this problem is out of the School Board's hands. In past years we've looked towards exchange students and have been successful in this endeavor. However, this year we were only able to secure one foreign student.

2) As to the question of current grants obtained and of their expiration as of next year, we're looking at other grant options to take over where these current grants leave off. This includes both language and physical education.

3) The Board continues to: 1.Encourage academic excellence for staff and students by supporting academic activities and competitions along with college readiness and study skills; 2. Ensure the continued improvement of the school environment in the form of building maintenance and student pride in school and community ; 3) Continue to look at and improve school and community communications; 4) Examine ways to increase student enrollment; 5) Continue to seek outside sources of funding in the way of grants.